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Giving to U.S. Colleges and Universities on the Rise, Especially Among Wealthiest Schools

(March 3, 2008) Charitable giving to colleges and universities was up in 2007 by 6.3 percent to $29.75 billion, according to a recent study by the Council for Aid to Education.

Alumni giving declined 1.5 percent in 2007, to $8.27 billion, but has increased 25.3 percent over the past five years, according to the council’s Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey. A little less than half (46.8 percent) of the total giving in 2007 came directly from individuals.

Giving by foundations increased by 19.7 percent in 2007 and made up $8.5 billion of the total giving that year. In particular, contributions by family foundations grew significantly, fueling the overall increase in 2007 foundation giving.

Wealthy universities are driving the national trends, the report states, with Stanford University, Harvard University and the University of Southern California being the top three fundraising universities in 2007. Stanford alone collected over $832 million in funds from private donors in 2007.

The 20 top charitable gift earners in 2007 received $518.34 million more than they did in 2006, which accounts for nearly a third (29.6 percent) of the total 2007 increase.

Momentum at the top universities

Fritz Schroeder, senior associate vice president for development at Johns Hopkins University—which ranked fourth on the list of top university fundraisers in 2007 (receiving $430.46 million)—says their giving totals of late are a result of momentum from a seven-year campaign that will conclude this summer. Johns Hopkins’ $3.2 billion campaign began in July 2000 and has been supported by a large investment by the university, Schroeder said.

“There has been a 10-12 year trend of the university investing heavily in staff, outreach and programs,” said Schroeder.

As of Jan. 31, Johns Hopkins had collected 33.1 percent of gifts for its “Knowledge for the World” campaign from foundations—largely made up of research grants—and 50.9 percent of contributions have come from individuals. This closely mirrors the national trends reported in the study for foundation and individual gifts in 2007. Schroeder points to a handful of substantial major-gift donations that have bolstered the campaign.

Schroeder admits that having the reputation of offering a good product has served the university’s fundraising well, but does point to a couple programs that he says have proved particularly valuable, such as the regional campaigns the university’s development office has launched.

“The Knowledge for the World Tour invites people in their own location to join us for a day of discovery,” said Schroeder. The two or three academic sessions display “Hopkins at its best,” offering cutting-edge research and lectures followed by a request for support to maintain programs.

Alumni getting younger

However, the VSE study reports that alumni participation—the proportion of alumni who give—is on the decline—dropping from 11.9 percent to 11.7 percent. Part of the decline may be due to steep increases in enrollment at colleges and universities.

College enrollment increased 17 percent from 1984 to 1994, reports the National Center for Educational Statistics. Between 1994 and 2004 enrollment increased 21 percent. The increase in enrolled students creates a challenge to get younger alumni involved early in charitable support to their alma mater.

About the Survey

More information about the survey can be found on the Council for Aid to Education’s website.

The results of the survey along with a full analysis of the trends will be published in the spring of 2008. The publication, Voluntary Support of Education, 2007, can be ordered by calling 212-217-0878 or by downloading an order form. Price: $100 ($65 for survey respondents), plus $6 shipping and handling.

The Council for Aid to Education conducts research on higher education policy, develops assessment and planning tools for colleges and universities, collects and disseminates data on private giving to education, and promotes effective corporate support of education.

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